To Lift or Level…
Both lift kits and leveling kits are designed to raise the ride height of a vehicle to fit larger tires and to possibly increase the overall ground clearance of your vehicle, but let’s dive a little deeper and find out what makes each kit tick.
You might’ve asked yourself some of these same questions when contemplating your next vehicle modification: What is a lift kit, is there more than one kind? What is a leveling kit? Which one is going to allow me to get bigger tires? If I buy one do I have to go to a mechanic to install it? I know here at DST a few of these questions have crossed our minds, so we thought we’d lend a helping hand to anyone else out there who was scratching their heads.
Table of contents
WHAT ARE THEY?
Body Lift Kits will raise your vehicle’s ride height between 1-3 inches; this is accomplished by lifting the body of the vehicle and installing blocks or spacer between the body and frame. Suspension Lift Kits are designed to increase a vehicles ground clearance; this is easily done by installing leaf spring blocks or by the placement of coil spacers, though some more complex methods involve new coilovers or struts. There are a few different types of suspension lifts to choose from:
- Spring Over Axle Suspension Lift Kits require you to weld new perches on the top of your axles and are popular among serious rock crawlers, these kits provide the most suspension articulation and maximum traction.
- Torsion Keys are for vehicles with torsion bar suspension. Torsion Keys twist to accommodate the weight of the load, they do not add to your truck’s spring pre-load, and give you a smoother ride.
- Shackle Reverse Suspension Lift Kits are designed to offer a smooth ride on moderate terrains because they reverse the pivot point so that it is in front of your axles; this allows the front suspension to be much more natural.
- Shackle Suspension Lift Kits a longer shackle will lift your vehicle half of the extra length, these kits are more for vehicles with leaf spring suspension that use the highway rather than off-roading vehicles.
- Lifted Spring Suspension Lifts are designed to offer great control on rough terrain, they add a small lift and are better used to bring sagging springs back to stock height, these kits can be used with leaf spring suspensions and offer you more camber.
Leveling kits are almost exclusively for trucks that come from the factory with a raked stance and raise the front suspension of the vehicle so it matches the stock height in the back. Installing a leveling kit is a prime time to add a lift to your truck and many leveling kits include components to level and lift the front as well as lift the rear suspension. Another popular form of lifting is to combine leveling kits and body kits; this gives you the benefits of a suspension lift without having to actually alter your suspension, and at a fraction of the cost. Like suspension lifts, leveling kits come in a variety:
- Leaf Spring Blocks are installed between the leaf springs and the axle and are the usual method of altering the ride height of the rear end of a vehicle, for a rear-high stance or for putting the rake back in your truck for hauling/towing.
- Strut Extensions are for vehicles that have coilover struts in the front suspension. These leveling kits apply a spacer on top of a factory strut and will not require any other modification to your factory parts.
- Coil Spacers these kits are similar to strut extensions; only the spacer is added to the top of factory spring buckets instead of the strut, they also provide unbeatable ride quality, comfort and excellent articulation on the open trails.
WHAT ARE THEY USED FOR?
If you’re looking to jack your vehicle up to Jesus than a suspension lift is your ticket. Suspension lifts can go as high as your pockets are deep. These lifts also make your vehicle’s suspension more articulate and give that added ground clearance all of our outdoor enthusiasts out there love.
Body lifts are great for vehicles that see extensive street/highway use since they have the least effect on how your vehicle handles. A body lift will raise your ride height and keep your center of gravity low without altering the original suspension geometry of your vehicle. You won’t need to modify your brakes, shocks, tires and anything else that came on your vehicle from the factory and you can keep your stock tires or upgrade them to give you a little more ground clearance.
Leveling kits are more commonly used for trucks that tow and haul. Most trucks come from the factory with a ‘raked’ stance, this just means that the rear of the truck sits slightly higher than the front, which helps prevent bottoming out in the rear with heavy loads. These kits can also help with a heavy winch or plow in the front of your vehicle; they won’t affect payload capacity and most will not void your factory warranty.
Which is Right for Me?
Ground clearance is a big motivation for lifting a vehicle since it can prevent damage to your undercarriage when off-roading, but it can also help with things as simple as working the back 40. When we think about lift kits we usually imagine big jacked up trucks out rednecking around in the mud or trying to climb a mountain, but ground clearance also keeps your truck from bottoming out when going over rough pasture with a heavy load. Higher clearance will allow you to haul and tow without damaging your suspension, drivetrain, and other components under your vehicle. Along with increased performance off-road, increasing ground clearance gives your vehicle that tough ‘I dare you’ look.
Typically a suspension lift is going to give your vehicle higher ground clearance than a leveling kit. With suspension lifts the sky is the limit, you can obtain the most clearance with these kits, because you can have one customized to say 18 inches or taller if you have the dough to spend. Leveling kits only go up about 3 inches and only raise your clearance in the front. A body lift only raises your ride height and doesn’t directly affect ground clearance. A word of warning: Higher ground clearance means higher center of gravity which can increase body roll and decrease traction during a turn, so lift semi-responsibly.
Body lifts and leveling kits are like one-stop shops, once you’ve purchased and installed the kit you’re good to go. These kits allow you to keep all stock parts and will not require any major modifications, and they will both allow for larger tires. Body lifts can run anywhere between $100-$800 and leveling kits cost anywhere between $30-$500, all depending on vehicle type and lift height.
Suspension lifts, on the other hand, may require you to replace additional parts on your vehicles, such as brake lines, shocks, and tires. The kit itself will run you anywhere between $100-$3,000 not to mention mechanic fees if you choose not to install the kit yourself. Depending on how high you lift your vehicle you may also be replacing suspension components like ball joints sooner than anticipated due to the added stress the lift will put on them.
If you aren’t familiar with a metal cutting saw or the thought of having to shave off pieces of your bumper makes your stomach churn, I suggest consulting your local mechanic. Now this is not to say that it is impossible to DIY these kits, most manufacturers send detailed instructions to aid in the installation process, and each kit has its own difficulty level, ranging from “I can do this over the weekend” to, “maybe I should go to a mechanic”.
Body Lifts- Moderate
Body lifts can be very time-consuming because you have to lift the whole frame. Additionally, these kits may require you to add a few new notches, some trimming and maybe even some welding. This process is not only very time consuming but the end result will make your vehicles frame more visible, this can be fixed with gap/bumper guards.
Suspension Lifts- Expert
Some suspension lifts are a simple matter of adding a spacer to a strut, but others are complicated enough to make even a skilled mechanic wince. Not to mention the extensive tear down for the desired lift up. In some extreme cases, you will need to remove the differential and drive shaft and then cut the differential mount, the frame and trim a few parts as well. Not for the faint of heart.
Leveling Kits- Easy
Leveling kits are relatively simple compared to its counterparts. For this install you can put your metal cutting saw away. All you’re going to need are a few wrenches and a hammer.
If someone asks, “Why would you want to lift or level your vehicle?” the simply southern answer is, “Bigger tires, of course”. Well, it might be a little more complicated than that, however, each one of these kits will allow you to upgrade to a larger set of tires. How big, you ask? Well that all depends on just how high you choose to lift your vehicle, but we can give you a pretty good idea:
A two-inch lift kit or leveling kit will typically give you enough room for 32″-33″ tires and a three-inch body lift could give you enough room for up to 35″ tires! If your suspension lift is tall enough, then you can just go down your local tire shop and order the biggest set of tires they make. We’re talking monster truck big.
Some people just like the way a jacked up vehicle with big tires looks, however sometimes this look has its downsides. The higher you jack up your vehicle the higher its center of gravity gets. A higher center of gravity increases your vehicles chance of body roll and could cause loss of traction during turns.
Suspension lifts allow you to have a big jacked up truck with monster tires and offers you an adequate workout. Climbing in and out of your truck could become quite annoying when jacked to high, especially if you have little ones. Also, suspension lifts may void your vehicle’s warranty, depending on where you live and how high you choose to go.
Body lifts are all about that look, no treble. Body lifts may not offer any performance advantages but they are a less expensive way to lift your vehicle and allow larger tires.
A big complaint among leveling kits, is the minimal effect they have on the look of trucks since it only levels them out, so if you want something a little more dramatic I’d suggest a lift kit. However, leveling kits to help with the added weight of a winch and when combined with a body lift give you that nice looking lifted vehicle with minimal damage to your wallet and change in your OEM.
Just to sum things up, lift kits are more for our off-road enthusiasts and range from cheap and simple to expensive and complex, whereas leveling kits are more for looks or helping out with a heavy winch. A full suspension lift will increase ride height and ground clearance in one kit, but combining a body lift with a lift and leveling kit can give you optimal lift at minimal cost. Any of these kits will all offer you some extra room in the wheel wells for those larger tires you’ve had your eye on.
While all suspension lifts, body lifts, and leveling kits have their pros and their cons they could be a great addition to what’s sitting in your garage. Whether you’re looking to give your Jeep that little extra edge out on the road, wanting to upgrade your rock crawler to take on some next level trails, or just want to level out your work truck, we hope we’ve equipped you with the knowledge needed to make the choice between a lift kit or a leveling kit, or at least given you some nice pictures to look at.
Have an opinion about leveling kits or suspension lifts? Please comment below! Want to learn more about body lifts and suspension lifts? Check out our Body Lift Vs. Suspension Lift post!
* It is recommended to get your vehicle aligned after installation.